3D Printing

It’s a Small World After All: Nanoscribe’s 3D-printed Nano-universe

This spaceship, hardly the width of a human hair, conjures up visions of Innerspace or The Magic School Bus, a day soon-to-come when we may see microscopic robots travelling through our bloodstream to fight off disease.  Born from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)[1] Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship comes Nanoscribe GmbH[2], a company that has developed 3D printing on the nanoscale.

Essentially, Nanoscribe relies on Stereolithography to print.  Like the Form1 printer, an ultraviolet laser is projected onto a photosensitive material that hardens into the pre-designed model.  Then, the excess material is washed away, leaving only the printed object.  But, in order to develop Nanoscribe’s method of printing, which they call direct laser writing, the firm created two different innovations.  The first is a class of photoresists that responds to the specific wavelength used by their lasers, as Nanoscribe explains on their website:

In this case the chemical property of the photosensitive material can not be altered unless one focuses ultrashort laser pulses hard into the material. By that the likeliness of multi-photon absorption, in most cases two-photon absorption, is strongly increased in the very focal volume. Hence, a chemical modification of this area occurs, which in a subsequent baking process leads to a local polymerisation.

The laser they’ve developed relies on a “galvanic mirror system”, which deflects the laser light across their photoresist solution.  So, rather than simply shooting one laser onto a photosensitive material to create a structure, the laser light bounces off of mirrors to cover more ground.  This increases the speed of printing dramatically, reducing print time from hours to minutes. Watch the nanoprinting process in motion below:

With Nanoscribe’s mirror system and photoresist solution, the firm can print beautifully elaborate structures that will serve a number of industries, including quantum computation and biotechnology.  Nanoprinting will allow for the creation of nanocircuits and metamaterials and printing organic tissue at the nanoscale.  3D printing’s utility in such a diverse set of fields proves that it will indeed be a ubiquitous technology in the coming years and it feels so great to be on the ground floor!

[1] As an American, and therefore someone with limited knowledge about other countries, I had to look up this famous university on Wikipedia. It seems to me, for all of my fellow Americans out there, that KIT is sort of the equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) in the U.S.

[2] And a GmbH is the American equivalent of a Limited Liability Company (LLC).